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Prep football: ‘Silent killer’ Phelps thriving for unbeaten Madison as trip to Northridge looms

Madison High School’s football team is barreling through the regular season with a senior-loaded lineup.

But the Mohawks aren’t all seniors.

Junior Jake Phelps is a returning starter at outside linebacker who’s added halfback to his starting duties this year, and he’s been a key figure in the Mohawks’ 7-0 start. But don’t expect him to start boasting about his accomplishments.

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“Jake is kind of a silent killer,” Madison coach Steve Poff said. “He’s really easy to overlook because he doesn’t say much and he’s kind of shy, but athletically, he’s just tremendous.”

The Mohawks have four players with 400-plus rushing yards: Evan Crim (57 carries, 528 yards, seven TDs), quarterback Mason Whiteman (39 carries, 419 yards, six TDs), Phelps (44 carries, 418 yards, four TDs) and Cameron Svarda (66 carries, 408 yards, six TDs).

The 5-foot-9, 160-pound Phelps also has five receptions for 63 yards and two touchdowns, and three kickoff returns for 62 yards. On defense, he’s picked off a pair of passes.

“I’ve been around Jake most of his life as far as I coached him in pee-wee and helped coach teams that he was on in pee-wee, and he’s as good a running back as we’ve got in the township,” Poff said. “He’s kind of like Bam (Svarda) where size-wise he’s not overwhelming to you, but he’s got a great burst and runs with a lot of toughness.

“He didn’t run much last year. I try not to play sophomores both ways because I think it’s a lot of wear and tear on their bodies. I want them to be effective seniors. Cam Svarda was the last kid that played both ways as a sophomore, and as long as I’m the head coach, he’ll be the last one.

Madison junior halfback/outside linebacker Jake Phelps

“Jake returns kicks for us. He’s on every single special team. He doesn’t come off the field, and I’m real proud of him for that. The one thing that makes Jake special is that he’s really, really good when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands. He’s blocking. He’s making fakes. That’s a big thing in our system. You’ve got to be a great teammate when you don’t have the ball.”

Phelps said he has no problem with the heavy workload. The team’s winning and he’s contributing, so he’s happy.

“I think everything’s clicking right now,” Phelps said. “I think I’m more comfortable on defense because I played there all last year, but I like playing both ways. Either way is fine.”

He believes focus and fundamentals are the keys for Madison, which has had just one close game (24-16 against Valley View in Week 3) this season.

The Mohawks, who made it to the Division V state semifinals last year with a junior-laden squad, have outscored their opponents 292-38.

“There’s not many juniors this year,” Phelps said. “I feel like I fit in with the seniors. They all like me, I like all of them.”

Madison’s quest for a state championship resumes Friday night when the Mohawks head to Dayton to face Northridge (4-3).

A win would secure at least a share of Madison’s second straight Southwestern Buckeye League Buckeye Division championship. The Polar Bears have taken a big step forward this season, but they’ve still lost their last eight meetings with the Mohawks by an average score of 53-11.

“We can’t look past anybody,” Phelps said. “We want to get to that state championship game. We want it to happen, so we’re trying to bring it into existence.”

Northridge hasn’t had a winning season since going 6-4 in 1998, and it’s been a long, often painful ride from there. From 1999-2017, the Polar Bears had a combined record of 38-151.

Yet Poff has been talking about Northridge’s emergence as a potential SWBL contender all season, and the Polar Bears have just one league loss (to Milton-Union).

Northridge was hit with some key injuries early in the season and started 1-3. But the health situation has improved greatly since then, and so have the Polar Bears’ fortunes.

“I think we’re better than we have been,” Northridge coach Bob Smith said. “The kids are buying in and starting to come together. They’re enjoying getting some wins and trying to compete a little bit. We hope to be able to compete with Madison, but we definitely know they’re the king right now.”

The Polar Bears have some of the SWBL’s best skill players, including senior running back Twon Hines (6-1, 185). He missed the first two games of the year, but he’s averaging nearly 10 yards per carry with 498 yards and four touchdowns on 52 rushes.

Senior quarterback Mason Hardin is 54-of-87 for 829 yards and nine TDs at the helm of Northridge’s spread offense.

“Regardless of what people think of their record, they’re really dynamic. They’ve got six or seven guys that can take it the distance on any one play,” Poff said. “We’re looking for a dogfight. In just about all the games they’ve been successful, they’ve come out and jumped on teams and got rolling early. We’re going to try to slow that down and see where we’re at in the second half.”

Senior end Andrew Hall (6-4, 215) and junior linebacker Jerron Lander (5-9, 175) are among the Polar Bears’ best defenders. Smith said he’s generally got 7-8 guys going both ways.

“Our strength is our skill kids right now,” Smith said. “Our line’s coming along and getting a little bit better each week.”

Friday’s game

What: Madison (7-0, 4-0 SWBL Buckeye) at Northridge (4-3, 2-1 SWBL Buckeye), 7 p.m.

Where: Northridge Stadium, 2251 Timber Lane, Dayton

Last meeting: Madison won 58-13 in 2017 and has an eight-game winning streak in the series

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